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tv   Hard Talk  BBC News  December 16, 2019 12:30am-1:01am GMT

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our top story: the longest un climate talks ever held have finished with a compromise deal on tackling climate change. delegates and environmental campaigners called it an utter failure, blaming some of the most polluting nations for holding back decisive action. activists are continuing their protests in the indian capital, delhi, accusing police of attacking students demonstrating against a controversial new law. it allows migrants escaping religious persecution in neighbouring countries to claim citizenship, but not if they're muslim. and 84—year—old roy jorgen svenningsen from canada is getting a lot of attention on our website. he has become the oldest person ever to complete the antarctic ice marathon. it took him 11 hours, 41 minutes and 58 seconds to finish the course. that's all, stay with bbc world news. now on bbc news, hardtalk‘s stephen sackur interviews
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best—selling author bill bryson. welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. sometimes it takes an outsider, armed with just a sharp eye and curiosity, to get us to see ourselves as we really are. and that would explain the enduring popularity of the american—born writer bill bryson, whose wry take on britain and the british has generated two best—selling books. now, in recent years his travels have taken him deep into the realms of science and human biology. from the mysteries of afternoon tea to the power of the human brain, what has bill bryson learned from his gentle search for understanding?
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bill bryson, welcome to hardtalk. i'm delighted to be here, stephen. thank you for having me. well, it's a pleasure. seems to me that you've lived a life driven by curiosity, by a determination to get explanations. ami a determination to get explanations. am i right? i get a lot of credit for that, and i'm not sure i entirely deserve it. i mean, i won't argue with you if you want to praise me for it, but i think we're all driven by curiosity. what else gets us driven by curiosity. what else gets us out of bed in the morning, you know? and all have done, really, is just figured out a way to make a
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living out of it. well, except as may be the difference between an open mind and a closed mind. and your mind has been opened to travels, to learning things about, you know, science, for example, which you clearly didn't begin with a great deal of expertise in. which you clearly didn't begin with a great deal of expertise inlj guess i have always been fascinated by why people do things the way they do them. and maybe it's because i grew up in the very middle of america, in a very homogenised sort of pa rt america, in a very homogenised sort of part of the world. and everybody for 1000 miles in every direction was exactly like us. i mean, there was exactly like us. i mean, there was no variation in accent or skin colour or anything. this was deepest, darkest iowa. this is in middle iowa, yes. and it was really, really quite homogenised. and i grew up really quite homogenised. and i grew up fascinated by the way people did things in other countries. i really, really wa nted things in other countries. i really, really wanted to go off and see how they did things elsewhere. and i am still fascinated by that. i think it is quite amazing when you go somewhere and you just think, you know, london has reallyjaunty red double—decker buses. why doesn't everybody do that? wire? and sidewalk cafe ‘s. i know a lot of the rest of the world has copied
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that, but back in the 1970s when i started travelling, it was really unusual to see that in other countries. in funny sort of way i wa nt to countries. in funny sort of way i want to look at your body of work backwards, if you like, and begin with the recent writing which has very much delved deep into the worlds of science, but particularly in the latest book, the body: a guide for you call it, because we all ina guide for you call it, because we all in a way need to think —— 0 ccu pa nts, all in a way need to think —— 0ccu pa nts, you call all in a way need to think —— 0ccupants, you call it. because in a way we need to think and you want us to think about the way our body works. well, what i have done with that book and what i do with all my boxes i find something that i am curious about and i want to know more about, i just find curious about and i want to know more about, ijust find some area of great ignorance in my life, and one of those is the human body. i have been struck for a long time by this great paradox that we spend our whole lives in this container, you know, there is nothing in your existence with which you are more intimately associated than your own body, for obvious reasons. and yet most of us barely know it. i mean, i have never seen the back of my own head, except reflected backwards in the mirror. i can't look at my own ears, i can't look down my own throat. if i walk around you, i will see more of you than you have ever seen of yourself in ten seconds. and
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then what you look —— when you look at what is inside us, most of us have practically no idea of how we are all put together, and i have this vague sense that there is all of these things inside me that have been keeping me going for 68 years now, and i'm grateful as hell for it, but i really would like to know how it works and how it all fits together. interesting you say, you know, here i am, 68 years young. is there something about ageing, perhaps a greater appreciation of mortality, that has drawn you to talk about the body? no doubt, it also in the early stages made the research really ha rd, also in the early stages made the research really hard, because i kept reading all the things that could kill me. you study about the heart and you realise, well, i have been neglecting this organ for nearly seven decades now, and all the rest of it. and so yes, it took me a little while to get perspective on it. on the one thing i decided in the end was it was very important to me that i not dwell on all the things that can go wrong. because of things that can go wrong. because of things can go wrong with your body, and ultimately something will go so wrong that it will kill you. that is
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just an inevitability we'll have to live with. but for the most part your body is a success story. all of these systems within you are looking after you. as we here now, in london, we are breathing in pathogens wherever we go, and they wa nt to pathogens wherever we go, and they want to make a skill, but they don't. because our body catches them and deals with it, swallows them or cost them out or whatever. and most of the time we are constantly subjected to things that really ought to hurt us. an amazing statistic like heard about is, from a professor in stanford in california, that three to five times a day we get cancer, one of your cells will turn cancerous. you have so cells will turn cancerous. you have so many cells that are replicating so so many cells that are replicating so much that things will go wrong, and out of the trillions of cells, 37 trillion cells you have, some of them will miss fire, and you will actually get cancer. you mean all of us are prone actually get cancer. you mean all of us are prone to this. everything a lot of us. our ms system gets them. 0ur mid system captures them and
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identify them and dismiss them. so if you really get cancer in the conventional sense you have been very, very unlucky, because most of the time your whole life your body has been dealing with it. ijust thought that was an amazing thought. the passion is coming across, and you do write about it with a sense of amazement and awe, which it seems to meet you sort of feel that scientists don't always manage to get across. and therefore they don't get across. and therefore they don't get appreciated in the ways that they should. well, the one advantage i have always felt i had when i decide is that i am not a scientist. i have no scientific background. i was terrible at science at school. and the one thing i can bring to it isa and the one thing i can bring to it is a kind of enthusiasm bred for from ignorance, that i have an infinite capacity to be astonished by what i am learning, whereas i've often found a lot of scientist, by no means all of them, but a lot of them are veryjaded by their own subjects. because to them, the things that strike me as absolutely astounding are just, you things that strike me as absolutely astounding arejust, you know, everyday business of their working lives. but you do go to pretty extraordinary lengths to learn. you spend hours and hours obviously in libraries and gleaning information, but also i was very struck the passage you wrote about going to a
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dissection room, and i don't know if you had seen dead bodies before. no, no. this little passage is striking. you say the only raw flesh we normally see as the meat of animals we are about to cook and eat. the flesh of a human arm, once the outer skin is removed, actually looks surprisingly like chicken or turkey, and it's only when you see that it ends ina and it's only when you see that it ends in a hand with fingers and fingernails that you realise it is human. and that is when you think you might be sick. it is true. and i went into this dissecting room, i never been exposed to anything like this before. i was very, very lucky to be allowed to go in, this is at the university of nottingham, and i went in not sure how i would respond, whether i would be terribly queasy. and for the first 20 seconds i was, for sure. i think most people are, i was, for sure. i think most people a re, partly i was, for sure. i think most people are, partly just because i was, for sure. i think most people are, partlyjust because you are nervous and you are not sure how you are going to react. but then, i couldn't believe how quickly that
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past and how fascinating it was, and how privileged i felt that the dot and grateful. i mean, all of these people leave their bodies for medical science. i don't think i would have the character to do that, to just allow myself to be stripped naked and laid on a slab so that medical students could cut me open and learn the business of being doctors or nurses or other things. and, you know, so i think the people that have donated their bodies are massively heroic. in yourjourney, ifi massively heroic. in yourjourney, if i can put it that way, because we know you as a travel writer, in your journey through the human body, and health, because you are addressing issues of human health, you do seem to draw some fairly dark conclusions about what we modern human beings are doing to our bodies. you know, you talk about the ways in which modern lifestyles are actually endangering health, and entirely voluntarily, because of the stuff we eat, because of the over eat. you talk about obesity, you talk diabetes, you talk about sperm cou nts diabetes, you talk about sperm counts falling. it sort of ends up being a book which suggests, for all
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of our material well—being as human beings, we've got some very grave problems. well, i partly disagree with that in the sense that i do believe the book is about... is a celebration of the body and the good things it does, and how it looks after you. but it's true that a lot of things go wrong, and what was really surprising to me is to what extent we are responsible for the things that go wrong on us. i can't remember the exact figure, but it is something well over half of all the things that might kill us are things that are self—inflicted through lifestyle, bad choices. but it's not even just that, is lifestyle, bad choices. but it's not evenjust that, is it? it's notjust that we overeat, we the wrong kinds of food. it's also, if i may say so, somewhat political, your main point, because you make a real point of saying actually, health equates very closely to wealth, and to riches, to money. i.e. those who have more money, on the whole, will be significantly healthier and will enjoy greater longevity. and that
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applies across the world. it seems to be universal, and it's really interesting, because i don't think it's been terribly well studied. nobody knows to what extent it is genetic, you know, because you're wealthy, you come from privilege, you have lots and lots of good genes behind you, supporting it, and to what extent it is just that you haven't been exposed to risk in the same way. it's something that really ought to be studied, because it's something of a scandal in every advanced nation, not least britain, and even more in the united states, my own country. but it's something that really we should all be conscious of, which is part of the reason i dwelled on it, to some extent. because you do raise difficult issues, and is one other thing i want to talk about in the book the body, that strikes me as very important, because i want to move on to other work, but you talk about the degree to which collectively we are living longer as a species, longevity is extended, but that doesn't necessarily mean we are living longer healthier. many of us are living longer healthier. many of us have dementia and other degenerative diseases which make our final years, which are extended, actually very difficult and very expensive. and ijust wonder, for
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you, yourself, as you age, whether you, yourself, as you age, whether you considerfor you, yourself, as you age, whether you consider for example the ethics of assisted dying, and whether there isa of assisted dying, and whether there is a case, given our demographics, given our resources, given the difficulty of living with degenerative disease, whether assisted dying is something you've come to agree with. if you're asking me personally... i am. come to agree with. if you're asking me personally... iam. ido come to agree with. if you're asking me personally... i am. i do agree with it. it is not something ideal in the book, but i think it is going to be the whole matter of how we age and how we deal with it is going to bea and how we deal with it is going to be a real problem. because medical science can keep your body going, it can keep your heart ticking away and all of your system is functioning, really well. but what it can't do is give you quality of life that goes on forever. in the body deteriorates. that's just an inevitable part of ageing. and my dear old mother, who died a couple of years ago at the age of 102, she was a prime example of that. from about the age of 97 onwards she was essentially blind and demented and deaf, and she didn't know where she was what was going on. she had no
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quality of life. do you think she would have wanted the right to take her life? well, this is the real difficult thing. because if i had been responsible for her, i couldn't have said, yes, put her down, euthanise her. she's my mother, loved her. i couldn't do that. and there isn't any way that you could assign that role to society in some general sense. so how do we deal with that? how do we square this, where, you know, we are able to keep people alive, but with essentially zero quality of life? initially i don't think we as a society have even begun to address it. let me shift focus a little bit away from the body, and to bill bryson in his late 60s, living in the uk, of course, with still strong connections to the united states. you talk very interestingly these days about how you feel you don't along in the 21st century. you say i don't text, for instance, ijust can't do it. i can't. all of this stuff such as twitter, i don't understand it. i don't feel co mforta bly understand it. i don't feel
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comfortably attached to this wider world. you are the arch communicator. well, no, buti world. you are the arch communicator. well, no, but i am just interested in the day—to—day stuff. i don't have any aptitude for all of the technology that we are surrounded with, and i don't see... but you can learn. you havejust surrounded with, and i don't see... but you can learn. you have just —— we have just heard you tell us you learned all about the human body. you can learn how to use twitter, for goodness's sake. and when i have to, when it is a clear benefit to me, i love my laptop, i could not be without my laptop, so it is not as ifiama without my laptop, so it is not as if i am a complete luddite. and i watch my children, i came here on an underground train today and i watch people doing this, all the time. i thought what are you doing? just look at the world. there is a whole world around you. but in a way they are looking at the world. the internet, you know, for so long it has been seen as this amazing gift to humanity, because in our pocket we have a machine that can open up all of the knowledge of the world to us. and again, as a man who in the course of this interview has shown your passion for knowledge, is that not a massive access?
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it is so touching you see that. every time i look it is someone playing some game or doing something fairly trivial. i do not see people stretching their mind. in fact, i see the reverse. in fact, a judge a journalism writing competition a couple of years ago and they had to list their sources and virtually every source was from wikipedia. they had not gone any deeper than taking whatever wikipedia told them. it isa taking whatever wikipedia told them. it is a danger living in this world that we take the top easiest route. iam that we take the top easiest route. i am inclined to link your feelings about twitter and social media and the digital world to your feelings more generally about the value of conserving and preserving and protecting. you have written about that a lot, particularly in the context of britain and your love of
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so much that is traditional in britain and your worry about some of the development that might threaten, for example written's glorious natural habitat. would you say you area natural habitat. would you say you are a man that looks with great fondness to the past?” are a man that looks with great fondness to the past? i think so but not in the sense that i wish i could live in a 19th—century... not in the sense that i wish i could live in a 19th-century. .. some people look at your books as they he is just peddling old people look at your books as they he isjust peddling old cliches people look at your books as they he is just peddling old cliches about cricket and want beer and afternoon tea and quirky, eccentric glitch people. you can say that but that is where comedy lies. you make fun or tease the things that are representative of any society and for me, as an outsider, those of the things that i would focus on, like cricket and the kind of silliness of britain in the 21st century. your judges still wear what they wear.
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did you find britain more funny than most countries you have visited? yes but endearingly so. part of my really admire about britain and the reasons the judges still wear that is the have an embedded sense of tradition and continuity and i think thatis tradition and continuity and i think that is very, very important and what makes britain very special, this sense of a long history that is being honoured in some way. some of it isa being honoured in some way. some of it is a bit silly and superficial but fundamentally it has some real points. i said that sometimes it ta kes points. i said that sometimes it takes an insider to see us as we really. you have lived an awful long time in the uk. you came here in the 19705, time in the uk. you came here in the 1970s, married an english woman and lived most of your life you. are you now a naturalised citizen? yes. you area now a naturalised citizen? yes. you are a brett but still kind of an
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outsider. your first book was updated 20 years later with another travel journey through the updated 20 years later with another traveljourney through the uk. how has britain change? a lot, and not a lwa ys has britain change? a lot, and not always for the better. you have held on against all odds... i think the greatest achievement is the countryside. you have preserved this beautiful, beautiful landscape almost anywhere. if you were parachuted anywhere almost anywhere. if you were pa rachuted anywhere in almost anywhere. if you were parachuted anywhere in britain, it would land somewhere quite fetching. you like the britain stuck in aspic? you like the britain stuck in aspic? you can live in a landscape which is treated with respect, you keep the features that make it special. i think those are things with preserving and fighting for and paying for. you can call that aspic if you want but if you have
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something that is really beautiful why. .. something that is really beautiful why... sure, but when you see the ever—changing london skyline, some of the dramatic architecture...” actually quite like that. in britain today, we are facing so many existential questions that have been raised more than years of argument about brexit which in a sense is about brexit which in a sense is about who we are and where we want to go with our nation's story and you is sending a message that you quys you is sending a message that you guys should understand that your past was fantastic and, frankly, note from a small island, you are in your view and island, your story is very different from those of your neighbours, you should protect and preserve what is different about yourselves. am i right in reading it that way? if you have something that is really lovely or nice or special, why get rid of it? hold that and build new things over here. do not sweep away some lovely village in
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order to have a new housing estate. you need new housing estates and new hospitals but park them with care. don't just build hospitals but park them with care. don'tjust build them... there are so many people who think that riverside is an underdeveloped resource sitting there waiting to be built on and i think that is u nfortu nate built on and i think that is unfortunate because the rub brownfield sites that can be built on. there. keep the good stuff and this is not just on. there. keep the good stuff and this is notjust a british thing, this is notjust a british thing, this is notjust a british thing, this is everywhere. i come from a country that got rid of all the good stuff. just sticking with britain a moment longer and assault we are in an important moment in terms of the national psyche. do you think written is more or less electives with itself. —— britain. written is more or less electives with itself. -- britain. it is an interesting question. it is much more abilities with itself. we are going through a very before because
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of brexit. —— ill at ease with itself. as chaotic as it has been an divisive, it has actually been handled pretty well. you have not had rioting in the street, you don't have the governmental chaos that you can get in a place like italy. there has been a continuing stability and everybody on all sides has tried reasonably well to understand and appreciate the feelings of people on the other side. that is bill brightness the glass half full. —— brightness the glass half full. ——
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brightness i do want to talk to you about the united states. you talked about the united states. you talked about how you were brought up in the fields of iowa and wanted to get away. how do you feel about your native country right now because you're one of those americans who took an unusual decision to actually leave the richest and most powerful country on earth and make a life somewhere else. i wonder if that gives you a very negative feeling about the united states? it was not as though i was fleeing from america. i completely stumbled into an alternative life in another place which suited me and found very agreeable. there are a quarter million americans living in britain... forgive me for quoting you back at yourself but you said america could be anything it wanted to be and it shows to be a society
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built around shopping. america disappoints me hugely in lots of ways. i found a disappoints me hugely in lots of ways. ifound a loving britain more attractive but i am not ashamed to be american. i have strong feelings for america and there is a great deal in america that i really like, baseball, the fourth ofjuly, thanksgiving, i am still very attached. i have not rejected america. connecting the two strands of thoughts, to use the elements in britain's culture and way in doing things which are becoming more american overtime, over the last two yea rs ? american overtime, over the last two years? i think the biggest change and the most disturbing one to me is i think the british have become quite self—centred in a way they never used to be. you can see this just the way people get on and off underground trans, the way people drive on motorways, the way they
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overta ke. drive on motorways, the way they overtake. you put your indicate on, you waited and pulled out now you just your indicator on and pull out and it is just just your indicator on and pull out and it isjust a kind just your indicator on and pull out and it isjusta kind of... just your indicator on and pull out and it isjust a kind of...” just your indicator on and pull out and it isjust a kind of... i love the way you still tell stories through the details.” the way you still tell stories through the details. i think... a lot more people have become more self absorbed. i think americans do that but they do it with a kind of innocence stop they do not need to be tracks whereas the british have not quite got the angle on it yet. i think that will but at the moment andi think that will but at the moment and i think this is perhaps more true of london. you have been and have lived a life ofjourneys. are you continuing the training?” have lived a life ofjourneys. are you continuing the training? i do not want to travel but what i want to do more and more, my dear long—suffering wife who raised a family while i was out having adventures, but i am trying is taken
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to places i got to go. i am travelling still... in a different way. that sounds like a very lovely decision to make and i think you so much for being on hunter. thank you for having me, stephen. it has been a pleasure. hello there. after some heavy overnight showers and plunging temperatures as well, we're going into the new week on a bit of a wintry note for some of you. but gradually, through this week, we are set to see temperatures rise a bit more widely across the uk, but the payoff during the second half of the week is wetter and windier weather is set to return once again. but let's kick off with what's happening on monday morning. a chilly start, as i said, some showers through the night,
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that left a covering of snow. and anywhere from wales, the midlands northwards, temperatures will be low enough for some slippery conditions on roads and pavements, particularly northern england and central and southern scotland, where there could still be some wintry showers, giving a coating of snow over the hills. through the day, western scotland, northern ireland, the showers become more frequent, as we saw during sunday, with stronger winds. further south, well, a few showers around. one or two continuing towars the southeast and around some weastern coasts and hill through the day. but overall, a dry afternoon, bright afternoon, and a less windy one. temperatures though will be the same as we have seen through the weekend, around four to ten degrees. and the second of the sunsets, they will plummet away. and the second the sun sets, they will plummet away. it's going to be another chilly night. few things continuing though through monday night. showers in western scotland, northern ireland, giving a further covering of snow across the grampians and the highlands, but something cloudier and wetter spreading in through the channel island, towards east anglia and the south—east, keeping temperatures up here. away from that though, a risk of frost, some ice, and a greater chance of some fog patches into the tuesday morning rush—hour. so a few things for tuesday to consider.
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cloud and outbreaks of rain in that south—east corner could continue all day long, eventually easing. there will be fog to begin with elsewhere. that will greadually clear. a few showers dotted around in the north and the west, more especially towards shetland. many though having a drier day but quite a chilly one. after that cold start, temperatures of around 4—8 degrees during the afternoon. and a cold night will follow, with widespread frost and the return of some fog patches. this little bump here is a ridge of high pressure keeping things dry to take us into the start of wednesday. if you avoid the fog patches on wednesday, then you've got a lovely bright, crisp, sunny start to the day, with light winds. through the day, the breeze will be picking up in the west, northern ireland, wales, southwest england will gradually turn windier and wetter and temperatures will be on the rise by the end of the day. scotland, northern is in england, a chilly day with sunny spells. rain arriving as we go through wednesday with low pressure out to the west, wentz will keep temperatures up, no frost to take us into thursday morning. rain across the grampians
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and the highlands. that clears northwards. thursday, a story of sunshine and heavy and thundery showers. friday, more rain for many of you but temperatures on the up.
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meaning i'm rico hizon in singapore, the headlines: marathon talks on climate change close in madrid. but a compromise deal prompts scathing criticism. we will rise and unleash unprecedented movements if governments keep failing the people and the planet. we are closing ranks. indian police clash with demonstrators on the streets of delhi as protests over a new citizenship law intensify. i'm kasia madera in london. also in the programme: a minute's silence as new zealand pays tribute to the victims of last week's deadly volcanic eruption. and in the philippines, a key day in the cyber libel trial

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